Like grocery shopping, meal planning is constantly with us. Whether you plan as you walk in the kitchen or a month out, it has to be done at some point or the hungry hippos will descend!
As I have worked into my own system for our household, I have pondered again how different situations call for different solutions. I have a large upright freezer in the kitchen that is a wonderful resource. I also have easy access to multiple grocery stores. My sister has a small refrigerator and minuscule freezer. We handle the same task differently, and rightly so.
There are even more ways to tackle meal planning than that. We have a wealth of information easy accessible, sometimes too much. But if you take what time you have to sift through a few concepts, then dig deeper into what fits you, and implement in pieces, you can steadily and confidently work into a system and habits that help you and your family.
- A few minutes on the internet will yield more family meal plans than you could cook in a lifetime. Some are geared toward budget, some toward health, some just to be easy. You can surf and start gathering a set of recipes that your family enjoys and fit your style. Pick and choose from what is available.
Once you have a small library that works for you, it can be the backbone of your meal plan. You pick what you will be serving any given week and know what groceries to have on hand.
- Another popular solution abundant online is freezer and slow-cooker meals, where you go on a large grocery trip, then assemble 20 meals at one time. They go in the freezer ready to pull out and go when needed. This can be a great resource, when you have the time to invest on the front end, and is easy to supplement with last-minute meals when that is called for. You have the flexibility to respond to daily needs.
- Friends or older women in the church who have been prepping family meals for decades are also a great resource. There is a wealth of real-life experience available to you in conversation for the asking.
My personal mode at this point in my life is to stock up on meat (thus the freezer) when it is on sale, buy the produce that is in season and on sale, keep a variety of frozen vegetables on hand for insurance, always have a loaf of bread available (family favorite), and then fill in other menu items as I desire or have available. This ensures I always have meat and vegetables as a base, bread pleases my family, and I still have flexibility to be creative or satisfy a craving around that framework. (Note: I also keep one large lasagna or other casserole in the freezer for emergencies or sick days.)
As I do my daily and weekly planning, I also decide what I will serve for meals — usually 2 or 3 days in advance, subject to change. This means I can pull out any meat needed to thaw first thing in the morning or the night before, because I know what I have planned. I also can pick up a necessary item at the grocery store at my leisure, rather than having to run at the last minute. (Note: Since I prefer planning ahead, I do tend to try to make do with what we have in the pantry, though, even if it means adjusting. It can force creativity sometimes! It also lets me plan for leftovers when I know I will have them, i.e., repurposing mashed potatoes into shepherd’s pie the next day.)
Since my meal planning revolves primarily around meat, it helps to be familiar with a variety of ways to prepare it: roasting, slow-cooking, baking, frying, broiling, simple casseroles, basic toppings and marinades, etc. Having a small arsenal of options allows variety and ease (once you know each method well).
Always stocking ingredients for a couple of “go-to” meals, family favorites that are easy to make, is a good idea. This creates memories (I can tell you mine from growing up because I still make them today!) and can save the day when you realize meal planning didn’t happen, yet it is almost time to eat.
We will dig further into this topic, with a sample menu coming later this week, but for now — Bon Appetit!